Old brooms sweep clean

Luke Lewis moved from Toronto to rural B.C. He is learning broom-making.  Photo courtesy of Luke Lewis

Luke Lewis moved from Toronto to rural B.C. He is learning broom-making.
Photo courtesy of Luke Lewis

Old brooms sweep clean

Adapted from The Vancouver Sun by Nancy Carson
Level 2

A few years ago, Luke Lewis, 27,
moved to Crawford Bay, B.C.
This was a big change for Luke.
Luke came from Toronto.

Crawford Bay, B.C.
Crawford Bay is a very small community
in the southern interior of B.C.
The population is about 350 people.
The kindergarten to Grade 12 school has 75 students.

The artisans of Crawford Bay
like the the old ways of doing things.
And Luke likes the old ways, too.

What Luke is learning
Luke is learning to make brooms.
His aunt and uncle, the Schwiegers, are teaching him.
They own North Woven Broom Company.
They want to retire in a few years.

The business is 25 years old.
And they hope Luke will run the business.
Their daughters, Mary and Sarah Schwieger,
run the Granville Island Broom Company
in the city of Vancouver in B.C.

Mary Schwieger, left, makes a broom as her sister Sarah sweeps up at the Granville Island Broom Co. in Vancouver. Photo by Ric Ernst/The Vancouver Sun

Mary Schwieger, left, makes a broom as her sister Sarah sweeps up at the Granville Island Broom Co. in Vancouver.
Photo by Ric Ernst/The Vancouver Sun

Where to learn
The art of broom-making
was passed from person to person.
There were no schools.
In the U.S. now there are only
a few schools where
one can learn old skills like this.

History of brooms
Brooms have been with us
for thousands of years.
The earliest broom was made
of twigs tied to a wood handle.
This was called a besom.

Besoms made tracks in the dirt
but did not get rid of dirt.
The twigs often broke and fell out.

A twig broom/https://flic.kr/p/9L76rb/ Photo by Thomas Quine

A twig broom Photo by Thomas Quine/CC, Flickr

Early grass brooms
In 1797 Levi Dickinson
made a new broom for his wife.
It was made of sorghum grass
which their animals ate.

The broom became very popular.
Soon Dickinson started making
brooms for hundreds of people.
People called the grass broomcorn.

Growing broomcorn
In the early 1800s,
farmers began to grow broomcorn.
Migrant workers came to the area
in late summer to help with the harvest.
The workers were called “Broomcorn Johnnies”.

The modern flat broom
The first brooms were round in shape.
Popular modern brooms are flat, shaped like fans.
These flat brooms were invented
by a religious group
in the U.S. called The Shakers.

The flat broom is easier to use
and cleans a larger area.
The Shakers invented hundreds
of things which made work easier:
from the clothespin to the circular saw.
And they shared their inventions with others.

A dying art
There were 60,000 broom shops
in the U.S. by the 1830s.
In 1994, this all changed.
Brooms from Mexico could be
imported duty-free into the U.S.

Most broomcorn is now made in Mexico.
And it is difficult to find shops
making brooms in North America.
Maybe Luke Lewis will change this.


  1. artisan: a worker in a skilled trade,
    especially a trade that involves making things by hand
  2. twigs: a small branch of a bush or tree, usually without its leaves; a small stick
  3. besom (BEE – zum): a broom made of twigs tied to a wood handle
  4. migrant: a person who moves from place to place to get work, especially a farm labourer who harvests crops when they are in season.

Broom folk beliefs:
Tradition – 
for centuries brooms have been used to sweep away evil and bad fortune.

Housewarming  giving a new broom as a gift is believed to bring good luck and harmony to a new home.

Marriage If a bride and groom hold hands and jump over a broom,
they will have good luck and fortune in their relationship.
An old custom in Wales calls for newlyweds to enter their new home
by stepping over a broom and luck will follow.

“Broom” expression:
a new broom sweeps clean:
a new boss gets rid of the old and brings in new ideas and staff.
She made a lot of good changes when she came to the school.
It is true that a new broom sweeps clean!

“Sweep” expressions:
to sweep something under the carpet: to hide or ignore something.
You made a mistake that you can’t sweep under the carpet.

a clean sweep: if you make a clean sweep, you win a competition or an election very easily or you win all the prizes in the competition.
People think that the party will make a clean sweep in the election,
winning most of
the votes.

to sweep somebody off their feet: to make someone fall suddenly and completely in love with you
You expect to get swept off your feet on Valentine’s Day.


  1. Read about the artisans in Crawford Bay
  2. Luke Lewis’ cousins make brooms at the Granville Island Broom Co.
    in Vancouver
  3. North Woven Broom Company where Luke learns broom making
    from his aunt and uncle, the Schwiegers
  4. Harry Potter’s first flying lesson with a broom
  5. The game of quidditch (using brooms) was inspired by Harry Potter
    and is played at UBC and SFU.


Previous Image
Next Image

info heading

info content

Sweeping a street in Cuba
Photo by Ed/CC,Flickr

Broom making equipment

Photo by b.reynolds/CC, Flickr

A man selling brooms
Photo by flappingwings/CC, Flickr

The popular Canadian sport of curling, played on ice, uses brooms
Photo by Wyoming_Jackrabbit/CC, Flickr

A circular saw used for sawing tree trunks

Photo by Tudor Barker/CC, Flickr